ISLAMABAD May 20 Pakistan's biggest television
station said it was ramping up security on Tuesday after it
became the object of dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing
a song during an interview with an actress.
Geo Television is scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting
staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly
blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam.
"This is a well-orchestrated campaign," he told Reuters.
"This could lead to mob violence."
The accusations pit Pakistan's most popular private
television channel against increasingly vocal religious
conservatives, just as the station was emerging from a bruising
battle with the country's spy agency.
Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not
defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have
been hurt for any reason can file a case.
Scores of people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by
mobs and Aslam said despite broadcasting apologies, the station
had received threats to kill journalists and their families.
The accusations follow Geo's high-profile tussle with
Pakistan's powerful spy agency, whom it accused of shooting one
of its most popular anchors last month.
The station did not support its accusations with evidence
and later backpedaled. But a national poster campaign was
launched proclaiming support for the military and denouncing the
station. Cable operators pulled Geo from their content.
That controversy had barely died down when Geo was engulfed
by a flood of blasphemy accusations over a show it carried last
The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the
marriage of Prophet Muhammad's daughter at the same time a pair
of shoes was raised.
Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the
timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have
alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting.
On Monday, Islamabad High Court accepted a petition brought
by a lawyer representing a group of clerics affiliated with the
radical Red Mosque in the capital.
Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and
writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a
national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station.
ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging
it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in
Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy
cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime.
Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked;
a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy
was killed this month.
Clips of Geo's controversial programme have attracted tens
of thousands of views on YouTube, which was blocked in Pakistan
in 2012 because of fears that it may show blasphemous content.
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people, is
struggling to contain two insurgencies, daily power cuts,
widespread unemployment and rising crime.
Accusations over blasphemy are rocketing, from one in 2011
to at least 68 last year, according to the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan.
More than 80 people have already been accused of blasphemy
Activists say the accusations are increasingly used to grab
property or money, target minorities and settle political
scores. Cases can take years to go through the courts.
(Reporting By Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie)